September 2, 2014

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Browns Notes: CB Buster Skrine leads team in pass breakups, draws praise from Joe Haden, Aaron Rodgers

Browns cornerback Buster Skrine knocks a pass away from Detroit Lions wide receiver Pat Edwards  Sunday in Cleveland. The ball was intercepted by Browns defensive back Tashaun Gipson. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Browns cornerback Buster Skrine knocks a pass away from Detroit Lions wide receiver Pat Edwards Sunday in Cleveland. The ball was intercepted by Browns defensive back Tashaun Gipson. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

BEREA — Who said breaking up is hard to do?

Cornerback Buster Skrine has at least three pass breakups in three straight games, including a career-high four Sunday in the loss to the Lions. He leads the team with 14.

“He’s stepped it up and he’s made me look like I knew exactly what I was talking about,” said cornerback Joe Haden, who predicted big things for Skrine during the preseason. “Because he did it in practice. Every day he was improving on his technique and it’s just transferred to the games. I’m so happy for the dude because he works really hard, he’s a scrappy player and he’s just doing a really good job.”

Skrine (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) committed 10 defensive penalties last year and there were plenty of doubts about whether he was big enough or polished enough to be a competent starter opposite Haden.

Through six games, the answer is yes.

“He believes in himself,” Haden said Thursday. “When you watch him play, you see his quickness and all that and now he’s just getting his eyes back to the quarterback and being able to make plays on the ball. That was the biggest thing. He was never getting burnt. He was always right there and now he’s getting his head around and making plays on the ball and just making plays like everyone knew he could.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of Skrine’s game is the tenacity. He’s a fearless tackler and many of his breakups come after the receiver has the ball in his hands.

“I just fight to the end of the play, and I’m confident now I’ll get it out,” he said. “It’s been working for me.

“Route recognition has helped me a lot.”

Skrine is soft-spoken and doesn’t brag. But his confidence never wavered and he feels he’s gotten better each week.

“I just wanted to be consistent this year, continue to get better week by week, just take on all the things that my coaches have showed me,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in being aggressive. A lot of smaller corners in the league, they get pushed around and things like that. I’m just trying to hold my side down and do my job the best I can for the team.”

Haden, Skrine and the rest of the defense will have their hands full Sunday in Green Bay against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ fourth-ranked passing attack. Rodgers mentioned Skrine as a “feisty” player during a conference call this week.

“I think he’s a talented guy,” Rodgers said. “He’s obviously very athletic and fast. For a young player, it’s all about reps and the more reps you can get, you’re just stacking experience on top of each other and the reaction time improves. You just get used to making plays in the game, the game slows down and you’re able to play at the level you feel you’re capable of playing. That seems to be the case with Buster.”

“He’s a capable young man that’s really coming into his own,” coordinator Ray Horton said.

SECOND-HALF SLIDE

The Browns have led all six games at halftime, yet have been outscored 55-3 in the second half of their three losses. The coaches are convinced the systems are sound and it’s just a matter of better execution.

“The model, the system, the players, it’s not broken,” Horton said. “If you ask me what do we need to fix, we need to fix finishing games. We just need to clean up and hone and sharpen coming out of halftime and continue to do what we’re doing. Nobody’s outscheming us, nobody’s outplaying us, we just haven’t finished three games that have been close games.”

The Browns were outscored 24-0 in the second half Sunday in a 31-17 loss to the Lions. The offense had three three-and-outs in the third quarter.

“People want to talk about halftime adjustments and all those things,” coordinator Norv Turner said. “You go into the second half, and we have limited plays in the third quarter. So it wasn’t about adjustments to me. It’s about converting some third downs.”

Coach Rob Chudzinski also downplayed the importance of halftime adjustments, but he’s been studying the halftime procedures to see if they can be improved.

“The thing that I feel strongly about is it’s not a matter of emotions or energy coming out in the second half because that’s there,” he said. “It’s a matter of being able to jump back into the game at the same speed that you left it. We’ve been stressing that with our players, as well as just some things procedurally being able to get them going again physically.”

MCGAHEE RESTS

Running back Willis McGahee didn’t practice for the first time since joining the team Sept. 19. A team spokesman said days of rest to manage his surgically repaired knees have been part of the plan since he signed. The spokesman expected McGahee to practice today and be on the injury report the rest of the year.

McGahee spoke with reporters before practice Wednesday.

“I’m ready, man. I feel pretty good, man,” he said. “I can’t complain right now. Healthy, not sore, not beat up, anything. We’ve got a lot of season left.”

McGahee, who didn’t attend a training camp, has been growing more comfortable since arriving following the trade of Trent Richardson in Week 3. He rushed 26 times for 72 yards (2.8 average) and a touchdown in Week 5 vs. Buffalo, then carried 10 times for 37 yards (3.7 average) against the Lions.

Turner was asked if McGahee, who turns 32 Monday, can still get outside.

“Well, he can get outside, but I think he has to go inside to get there,” Turner said. “We have an unusual situation, we’re making the best out of it.”

Turner said Fozzy Whittaker, who was claimed off waivers Sept. 30, will be added this week to the running back mix that includes fullback Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey.

“No question it’s a group effort,” Turner said.

** Rookie safety/special teamer Josh Aubrey was added to the injury report and limited with ankle and knee injuries. Rookie linebacker/special teamer Brandon Magee (oblique) was limited for the second straight day.

Running back Bobby Rainey (groin) was added but practiced fully.

** For the Packers, receiver James Jones (knee) didn’t practice.

TALKING QUARTERBACKS

Turner condemned the backhanded interception by Weeden against the Lions, but has seen worse from better quarterbacks.

“There are some guys that have been to numerous Pro Bowls and guys that have won Super Bowls I’ve seen not only attempt that pass but have it intercepted for a touchdown,” Turner said. “It’s not excusable for anyone and it doesn’t make it right that someone else has done it. But we’re gonna eliminate it.”

Turner was quick to bring up the 250 yards of offense in the first half as proof Weeden did some good against Detroit. He’s also in no hurry to see how backup Jason Campbell would do at the controls.

“I don’t think anyone at halftime would have said, ‘God, let’s see how Jason can do in the second half,’” Turner said. “That temptation isn’t there for me.”

IN A ZONE

Horton disagreed with Lions running back Reggie Bush’s statement that the Browns played more man coverage than usual, which led to matchup problems for linebacker Craig Robertson.

“That’s not true. We weren’t playing more man,” Horton said. “That’s why I scoffed at what he said. We were playing more zone in that game. What he sees as man or not, I have no clue.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.